Photo: Colby College
There are 25 million Sikhs worldwide and Sikhs have been moving to America for more than 100 years.”How little we know about them, and that’s the sad part,” said Colby College professor Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh who has been studying her native religion since coming to America as a young child.
“In this part of the world, we just kind of label everybody ‘the other’,” she added. “People are just so afraid of ‘the other’.”
Since many people confuse Sikhs with Muslims, hate crimes against Sihks have been on the rise post-9/11. However, even before the terrorist attack on the World Trade centre, Sikhs were singled out whenever something happened in the Middle East.
Following the Iran hostage crisis in November 1979 through January 1981, Singh said her own brother was harassed due to anti-Middle Eastern sentiment in America.
“Right after that too, many Sikhs were victims of hate crimes,” she said. “So now its Bin Laden, Taliban. Then it was [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini.”
“We can shoot them. Just take a gun and go shoot them,” rather than learn about the separate cultures, Singh said.
Singh herself has been subjected to discrimination in America.
When she’s in the grocery store, for instance, Singh said she’s found people start speaking very loudly to her, as if she doesn’t understand English.
“In my life there’s been a real paradox,” she said, adding that she loves America and sees herself as part of this country. “On the other hand, people see me as Muslim, whatever, as part of that other world.”
While the Sikh tradition developed in the same region as the Hindu and Muslim religions, the three are distinctly different.
Unlike Hinduism, “the divine is never incarnated” in Sikhism, Singh said. That means Sikh temples are devoid of religious icons. The only adornment is the religion’s holy book.
The main comparison between Sikhism and Islam, and the reason for the growing hatred against Sikhs, is the fact that both Sikh and Muslim men wear turbans, Singh said.
But in Sikhism, the turban has a different purpose. Hair is a gift from God and as such, should not be cut, according to Singh.
The turban is used as a way to keep men’s long hair neat and tidy.
In Islam, there is no religious requirement to wear a turban, however covering the head is seen as a sign of respect for God.
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